It’s an unfortunate, all-too-common scenario: A customer shows up to McDonald’s craving a tasty treat and is turned away because the ice-cream machine is out of order. A recent Wired article delves into the saga of Jeremy O’Sullivan and Melissa Nelson, cofounders of Kytch, who may end up in a legal battle with the fast-food giant and Taylor, the ice-cream machine manufacturer that supplies many of the machines within McDonald’s franchises. Neither company wants Kytch to make their Taylor C602 ice-cream machines smart.
Kytch offers machine owners the benefits of remote control, realtime data and analytics, and AI (artificial intelligence)-powered predictive maintenance. It’s a Raspberry Pi-based device that’s easy to install into machines to give them a voice—essentially turning a dumb machine into a smart one and allowing decision-enhancing insights to flow from machines to machine owners, without having to go through a maintenance person first. While this is exactly the sort of IoT (Internet of Things) device that is giving enterprises the insights they need to thrive in a digital age, it’s threatening the business models of some manufacturers that rely on proprietary systems and service contracts to keep the wheels turning.
It’s a battle over more than just ice-cream cones. The situation is raising questions about machine data (who owns it—the manufacturer or the machine owner?) and the right to repair (who should be allowed to fix devices and machines?). And the conversation has ramifications not only for soft-serve ice-cream and frozen-yogurt machines but also for consumer electronics devices, smart vehicles, and connected medical devices and equipment, to name just a few.
Companies like John Deere, Apple, Google, Tesla, and Medtronic are some of the opponents of the “right to repair,” which would allow independent repair shops and consumers access to the tools they need to repair machines and devices on their own. Legislation with various shades of right-to-repair mandates is under consideration in more than a dozen U.S. states; and some states, such as Massachusetts, have already approved these types of initiatives. While the issue isn’t black and white, the line is pretty clearly drawn in the sand, with big tech opposing and small-business and consumer advocate groups in favor.
On one hand, could the right to repair impede on innovation by forcing manufacturers to divulge proprietary trade secrets? Could the right to repair be dangerous to consumers—for instance, in the case of medical equipment? Could it create hardships for businesses that rely on reoccurring service revenue? Opponents of the right to repair would say yes to some or all of these concerns.
On the other hand, the right to repair could improve customer service by reducing machine downtime—as it would in the case of McDonald’s finnicky ice-cream machines. It could potentially increase the lifecycle of devices and machines and contribute to a more sustainable, circular economy. And then there’s the question of who owns the data a machine generates about itself and its use. Does the manufacturer own it, or does the machine owner own it? Data is currency in today’s connected world, and the entity with access to the data can typically capitalize on it in some way, shape, or form, if it chooses to do so.
In Canada, the Your Car, Your Data, Your Choice campaign advocates that consumers own the data their cars generate, not car manufacturers. These types of campaigns educate consumers and lobby for consumers’ ability to choose where and how their vehicles get repaired. As devices and machines get smarter, the question of data ownership is one that will become increasingly important. And as more devices like Kytch provide opportunities to make traditional machines smart, businesses will either reap the benefits of this connectivity or, like McDonald’s franchises, have the door to device and machine visibility slammed in their faces.
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